We were invited to speak at the annual Bridge conference for changemakers in DC earlier this week  joined by our clients Julia Leonard (now at League of Conservation Voters) from Indivisible Project, Kyle Levine from Doctors Without Borders, and John Mims from both the Center of Reproductive Rights and the Vera Institute. We had a great conversation about how non-profits can use video to inspire and engage donors. Here are some highlights from our discussion.

Why video, and how does it fit in?

Video is the art of getting people to care — and that’s the foundation of any fundraising, acquisition, or awareness campaign.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to think about how to use video as a fundraising tool.

The first of these is a Donor Stewardship video. These are videos that don’t have a direct fundraising ask, or perhaps only a very soft one. The primary purpose of these videos is to connect your supporters to your mission so you can return to your donors down the road with a direct ask. These videos: 

  • Are often the longer-form videos that might be beautifully filmed, or feature people with lived experience
  • Have higher production value, telling an in-depth story in 1-3 minutes, or longer
  • Create the fertile soil your donors need to trust and feel connected to your mission
  • Might play on TV, social media, or at a gala

An example of this type of video is the one we made for Friends of the High Line, or the one we made for Doctors Without Borders.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Direct Ask videos. These videos have a clear case for giving. The content of the video is a short, quick appeal intended to bring money in the door immediately. These videos:

  • Rely on a simple formula: hook the viewer, then make an ask
  • May be user-generated and include content from the field
  • Have a lower production value and tend to be much shorter, even just 15 seconds 
  • Are ideal in rapid response moments
  • Often have a paid media component  

Very often, the most successful direct appeal videos are low-fi, filmed on a phone, and generated by field staff, volunteers, or surrogates in the field. Think of a Doctors Without Borders staff member making a direct appeal from the field. Or Elizabeth Warren, in her car after an event, asking supporters to pitch. Or Ukrainian civilians in basements asking the world to supply funds.

Examples of direct appeal videos from campaigns in the order given: Doctors Without Borders, Elizabeth Warren, UK for UNCHR

Use your authentic voice

Julia Leonard, our client when she was at Indivisible Project as Director of Digital Communications, shared a few tips to consider when creating direct ask videos:

If you want your video to stand out from every other video asking for money, there are a lot of really expensive ways to do that – celebrity cameos, flashy graphics, really sleek design. The easy, cheap way is to have the video say something only you can say. 

At an organizational level, that’s relatively easy since the content is probably already stored in places like your grant reports. Are you the only people in town who run a certain program? Say so. If your organization is doing something nobody else is, then your video should talk about that, not just about high-level values that you may share with other organizations. 

But you can also make the video stand out by making the subject personal to whoever your featured speaker is. 

A couple of years ago, I was filming an End of Year appeal video with Indivisible Project’s National Political Director, Mari Urbina. We had a script that she was working from, and doing some takes that were exactly what we wanted, right on message. Then, for some reason, we did one more take where we decided to take a more informal approach. So instead of our usual “Hi Indivisibles, it’s Maria Jose!” greeting, she opened with “Hey Boos, it’s Mari!” continuing to take the script we had and making it just a little more casual, a little more Mari.

We tested that head to head against the scripted version where she hit every talking point, and the “Hey boos” version won by a landslide. Clearly, personalization and authenticity go a long way.

Humanize your mission

John Mims, our client from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Vera Institute, shared a few best practices to consider when looking to create those longer-form donor stewardship films:

The one lesson that’s stood out in my years producing videos for non-profits is that emotional engagement is key to any successful message. That’s true in all media, but especially video. If you can inspire your audience to care about your message and your mission, you create engagement. That engagement translates into donors who not only believe in your mission but are invested in its success.

Take the Center for Reproductive Rights, for example. For last year’s fundraising season, the organization  wanted a video profiling their client Jackson Women’s Health, who they were representing at the Supreme Court.  As you may know, this was the case that wound up overturning Roe v Wade. The development and executive teams at the Center thought that by profiling their client in a video, donors would have an opportunity to “get to know” the staff at the clinic and better understand their challenges and sympathize with them and, in turn, generate donations for the Center.

At each of the Center’s major fundraisers last year, the video helped raise over a million dollars – and at their gala, it helped raise nearly $3 million.

When creating videos that are meant to humanize your mission, make sure that the voices of the people come through strongest. Having each of them speak authentically as themselves will have greater impact than forcing them to recite messaging. If your organization  needs them to deliver a message, encourage them to deliver it in their own words. 

Target and test your video content

And Kyle Levine, our client and Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Doctors Without Borders, also shared a few thoughts on how paid media can help video content reach new audiences in an effective way:

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make with video is thinking it functions differently from other communication mediums. Similar to a social media post or a banner ad, a video needs to tell one story and have one message that an audience takes away. 

Given the flexibility of the video medium, it’s easy to fall into the trap of cramming a lot in and thinking a video can pack in lots of different messages. It’s better to make three different videos with more defined messages and audiences than one big video for a “generic” audience. 

Along those lines, paid media is a useful tool to segment, target, and localize your message. It offers unique abilities to test and analyze results from your media campaigns. If you have multiple videos, you can easily segment your campaigns to expose different groups to different messages to check their effectiveness before further investing in promotion. This is an important step, especially when deciding on a large campaign concept or creative, such as during year-end fundraising. Measuring the results is also critical, but it goes past just looking at metrics like ROAS (return on ad spend). Not all videos are meant to move the needle financially, and should not be treated the same.

We aren’t in the days of TV budgeting anymore. Paid budgets online can fluctuate and iterate to meet audience needs so you can invest more in what works well and learn quickly from things that aren’t as effective. 

These are just a few of the ways we at Blue State and our partners are helping to further embed and evolve the ways in which organizations are using video content as part of their campaigns and appeals. Hopefully we’ve offered a few ideas as to how you can get started. If you have any questions at all, then please do get in touch. We always love to hear from you.